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Hannah Jones

Amana Academy West: New elementary school on Girl Scouts’ 270 acres of woods

After breaking ground in January, Amana Academy West has officially opened its doors. (Photo courtesy of Amana Academy.)

By Hannah E. Jones

Tucked behind a quiet neighborhood and nestled on 270 acres of woods is metro Atlanta’s newest school — Amana Academy West. The public, tuition-free, STEM charter school recently opened its doors for the 2022/23 school year, welcoming 160 elementary students to their new school in the woods. 

The campus is unlike any other in metro Atlanta. Through a unique partnership with Amana Academy and Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, the Girl Scouts’ Camp Timber Ridge has been converted into an elementary school for most of the school year.

Camp Timber Ridge offers a nontraditional landscape for the new Amana Academy West campus. (Photo courtesy of the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta.)

Camp Timber Ridge is a 270-acre wooded oasis in Mableton, featuring 10 classrooms, a STEM Center, dining hall and clinic — all in small, cabin-like buildings. The two kindergarten classes have an especially whimsical set-up, learning their colors and shapes in classrooms that resemble tree houses.

The Academy initially planned to build modular structure on the property, but, due to permitting issues, they are using the pre-existing buildings at Camp instead.

For the students and teachers, nature is always right around the corner — with the walk to lunch offering a breath of fresh air and time to enjoy songs from the resident birds. For some children, Amana Director of Operations Missy Rahman added, the break in nature is essential for staying focused and interested in the curriculum.

“Some kids don’t do as well in the classroom but when you come outside, it’s like a reset,” she said. “There’s fresh air, you can run around, and then it may be a little easier when you go back to the classroom.”

The unique campus fits the Academy’s alternative learning style that follows the Harvard-based EL Education model, emphasizing critical thinking and active engagement from students — values that are complemented by the Camp’s natural landscape.

“[The campus] is going to allow for the full expression of the model because the EL model is all about academics and so forth, but it’s also about adventure,” Amana Executive Director Ehab Jaleel told SaportaReport during the planning process. “It’s about connecting to the natural world; it’s about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. And that camp is a lab — it’s this huge 270-acre lab for our STEM programming.”

Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta CEO Amy Dosik and Amana Academy Executive Director Ehab Jaleel during last week’s opening ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta.)

The partnership works well for the Girl Scouts too, whose camp is jam-packed during the summer and some weekends, but rarely used throughout the year. Rather than letting the space go unused, the woods serve as an extension of the classroom — allowing students to explore, blow off steam and learn more about the natural world.

“This partnership is bigger than the sum of its parts,” Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta CEO Amy Dosik said during the opening ceremony. “As we look at what it means for children to go to school on 230 acres of unmanicured outdoors every day… they become inquirers and they become curious. We’re excited that this partnership will give 200 kids that opportunity every single day.”

This nontraditional approach allows students to learn from experience, rather than exclusively from the pages of a textbook. For some kids, this is a much different approach from their old schools. For example, a third grader recently told his mom that while he was having fun at his new school, he wasn’t learning much. When asked what he’d done that day, he listed several activities — an alphabet scavenger hunt, robotics and a nature-themed essay. 

“[She responds], ‘That’s learning,’” Rahman recounted with a laugh. “That really summarizes what we’re trying to do — Let the kids have fun and learn on the side, so they don’t even realize [it’s work.]”

Amana Academy West currently has 160 students from kindergarten to third grade, with room for about 40 more. Each year, the leadership team plans to add the next-oldest grade until their curriculum covers eighth grade. 

Now that the first school year is underway, the two teams are discussing other partnership opportunities, like potentially creating an Amana Academy Girl Scout troop. The teams have also heard from Girl Scout councils around the nation who are interested in implementing a similar model in their hometowns.

If you think Amana Academy West might be a good fit for a child in your life, click here to learn more.

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Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native and Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.

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